Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year!


This is my very favourite reason why we love writing - and reading - historical romance so much. Because it takes us to different worlds. We all hope to do a lot more of that in 2012.

Wishing everyone the New Year that you truly want.

Jan Jones

[This cartoon is by 'Bestie' and was allowed to be used by the Romantic Novelists' Association on postcards. I have never seen anything that better conveys the pleasure of reading and writing.]

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

How exciting!

How fabulous! Two of our authors are in the Top 10 Historical Romances on Kindle.  Darcy's Diary by Amanda Grange is at number 5 and Regency Pleasures by Louise Allen is at number 7. What a way to end the year!

Jane Austen, The Unseen Portrait

There’s been a lot of controversy recently about a portrait of Jane Austen which may, or may not, have been drawn from life. When I first heard about it I was sceptical for many reasons, the main ones being that the portrait is not mentioned in documents of the time, eg family letters, and that the inscription on the back reads Miss Jane Austin, not Austen. The consensus of opinion seemed to be that it was an imaginary portrait, ie one drawn by a fan who had never met Jane, and that it had probably been done many years after Jane’s death. But Dr Paula Byrne felt it could have been drawn in Jane’s lifetime, by someone who knew her, and a BBC programme, “Jane Austen, the Unseen Portrait”,  set out to investigate the theory.

I tuned in with the expectation of being entertained and nothing more. However, against my expectations, I found myself being won over to some degree by the arguments in the documentary. Whilst there is no direct evidence that the portrait was indeed drawn from life – no handy letter discovered which said, Dear Cassandra, This afternoon I sat for my portrait – I found the theory put forward interesting, at the very least, and surprisingly compelling. So much so that I would like to see further investigation undertaken because I think it is actually possible that the portrait was drawn from life.

Much of the evidence was circumstantial and I’ll briefly summarise it for those who didn’t catch the programme (which can be seen again here ) My own observations are in brackets.

1) The costume in the portrait is right for the period. (This doesn’t mean very much, since it would be easy for the artist to copy a fashion plate from the era, but if the costume had been wrong then it would have disproved the theory very quickly.)

2) The type of white ink used for the highlights was used as a matter of course in 1811 but had fallen out of favour by 1869. (This again doesn’t mean a lot but it helps the theory that it was drawn in Austen's lifetime rather than working against it.)

3) There is a family resemblance to other Austens of whom we have verified portraits. (Again, an artist drawing Jane from their imagination could have looked at these and made their portrait a good match. It’s another piece of evidence which doesn’t prove anything but seems to help rather than hinder the theory. However, one thing I found very interesting was that the woman in the portrait is noticeably very tall and slim, much more so than in the authenticated portrait of Jane by her sister Cassandra, and I see no reason for an artist drawing from imagination to do this. Yet it is accurate, because judging from a pelisse worn by Jane Austen – which has been authenticated – she was very tall and slim, about 5’8” and thinner than Kate Moss. So this fact seemed very suggestive to me and started to make me think that maybe, just maybe, the artist had met Jane.)

4) The misspelling of Austen as Austin (a big stumbling block for me to begin with) was shown to be a common misspelling of her name at the time by various people who knew the Austens. But the thing that convinced me absolutely that the misspelling was not a sign of inauthenticity was that her name was spelt as Austin on one of her royalty cheques. The cheque had been endorsed with the name Jane Austin (with an i) in Jane’s own handwriting. (Perhaps I should say, in what appeared to be Jane’s writing, as there were no tests done on the handwriting.)

5) The church in the background has been identified as St Margaret’s.

The St Margaret’s connection led to Eliza Chute, who knew the Austen family. She married at St Margaret’s, meaning the church had significance for her. She lived close to it in London – at one point in the programme it said that she had a view of St Margaret’s from her window, which means it is possible that Jane sat for her portrait in Eliza’s home – and she was a talented amateur artist. This led to the speculation that she could have painted the portrait.

And this is where, for me, the programme started to get really interesting. The Austen portrait is graphite on vellum, a technique which had fallen out of favour at the start of the eighteenth century. It was therefore a curious technique to use at the time the portrait was executed because it was already about a hundred years out of date, but it is known that Eliza Chute used this technique in a portrait of her sister. There are more details of this here: This link also has an image of the portrait – I didn’t post one myself because I know that some bloggers have been asked to remove the image for copyright reasons.

I was by this time so far persuaded that I thought it at least possible that the portrait was a genuine likeness of Jane, drawn from life, and to want to know more. Sadly, there were no conversations with art experts about the likelihood of it being by Eliza Chute, nor were there any definite datings of the vellum, ink and graphite. Both of these areas need further exploration.

There were / are some more problems, of course. Why would Jane sit for a portrait? And why is there no mention of the portrait in any family letters?

From a purely speculative point of view, the first question is not so difficult. Jane could have wanted to commemorate her success as an author. Or there could have been a more tragic reason. She could have suspected she was dying and wanted to give a portrait to Cassandra as a keepsake.

The second question is more difficult. Why, if it is a genuine portrait of Jane drawn from life, has there been no mention of it in family letters or other documents. What happened to it after it was drawn? How did it end up in the estate of an MP (my memory of the programme is a little hazy here, I need to rewatch it, but if memory serves it came from the estate of an MP).

Again from a purely speculative point of view I think it is at least possible that the portrait was mentioned in letters which Cassandra burned. In addition, if the portrait was drawn as a keepsake for Cassandra, then the sisters might never have told anyone else about it, and might have asked Eliza Chute not to mention it; or indeed Eliza might have mentioned it but this fact might never have been recorded, or been lost down the centuries.

So although I won’t go so far as to say that I’m convinced that this portrait was drawn from life, or that it was drawn by Eliza Chute, I’m no longer convinced that it wasn’t. Either way, it was an interesting programme and one which will not doubt keep Austen fans arguing for a long time to come.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Hope you had a good Christmas

I myself had a lovely quiet Christmas, which was what I'd hoped for.  We've been so busy lately that many things have had to wait, including my writing.  I shall be glad to get back to it as soon as I can, but first we have to move, which should happen in the next week or two, fingers crossed!

I had hoped to put up a Christmas story for my readers but it did not get done.  However, I shall probably finish it once we're settled, because it is about other things than just Christmas.

On the Mills & Boon front there are lots of good things in the pipeline.  Hostage Bride was published at the beginning of December but a new Regency trilogy begins in paperback in February.  I think the 3 books will be coming out successive months or at least very close together.  It begins with The Disappearing Duchess. 

There are several other titles either in the queue or being read and most of them are Regency, though there is one more of the Melford Dynasty.  The Lord's Forced Bride was the most popular of the series up until now but I think the new one, set mostly in Cornwall may prove popular too.

I am looking forward to 2012, though I doubt I'll make new resolutions.  Does anyone ever keep them?  I've tried but I think change comes gradually when you want it.

I should like to wish all my readers a Happy New Year.  Also the other authors on this blog - success and good health and happiness to you all.

Love from Anne Herries (Linda Sole)

Monday, December 19, 2011


This Christmas I’m lucky enough to be plotting a Christmas novella for next
year and, as the hero is going to be snow-bound in the village alehouse, this has meant rather a lot of enjoyable research on festive drinks at the beginning of the 19th century!

The bell ringers from the church were apparently completely without discrimination in what they drank: one night before Christmas they would do the rounds of the village with a large bucket, knocking on every door and collecting – in the same bucket – whatever the householder chose to give them. Ale, beer, homemade wine, spirits all went into the brew which must have left them with the most dreadful headaches in the morning.

Much more appetising and excellent for cold weather, was Mulled Ale. To make this you take strong ale and bring it almost to the boil with soft brown sugar, cloves and spices to taste. When it is ready add 2oz rum or brandy per pint of ale. Serve hot with grated nutmeg and sliced toast on top. Quite a few recipes have toast added, possibly for the flavour, although it must have become rather soggy.

Another type of winter warmer involved eggs and was variously known as Ale Flip, Egg Flip or Yard of Flannel. To make this bring a quart of strong ale to the boil with nutmeg, lemon peel & ginger. Add 3 or 4 beaten eggs, 4 oz moist brown sugar and a double measure of brandy. Then pour the mixture back & forth between two vessels to produce a frothy head. Without brandy it was called Egg Hot and was considered suitable for children.

For New Year it was traditional to make a Wassail Bowl. Roasted apples were pulped with brown sugar, grated nutmeg, ginger and a quart of good strong ale. The mixture was heated until warm but not boiling and left to stand for three to four hours. 5oz of sherry were added for each quart of beer and, for a really rich version, eggs beaten in cream and a little spirit were stirred in before it was warmed up and drunk.

The lady at the top of the page is wearing the most wonderful Chrismassy "Hyde Park Carriage Dress" so although she has nothign to do with boozy drinks, I thought she was seasonal!

Have a wonderful Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Louise Allen

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Feast Day

Feast day is an important date in Cornwall as it celebrates the founding of the parish church named for a particular saint. Our village is in the parish of St Mylor (originally St Meleor)  He was supposed to have arrived on a millstone. Celtic saints always seem to do things the hard way.  Though the church itself is Norman, there is a yew tree in the grounds that is far older and probably marks the original place of worship.  Anyway, the Feast. Preparations throughout the village differ only in scale.  The men were sent off to church or chapel in the morning to allow the women to get on with the cooking. In C18th and C19th farmhouses the farmer's wife and daughters, helped by those of the farm labourers, began preparations days in advance.  Fattened lambs were slaughtered and a maid was sent to the local brewery for additional yeast. Batches of loaves were made using wheat flour in honour of the occasion instead of the usual cheaper and coarser barley.  The spacious kitchen was fragrant with the scent of baking saffron cake, seedy cake, potato cake, gingerbread and scones.  Then into the range's oven went pasties, leek and pork pies, goose and parsnip pies, and fish and apple pies.  The special "lammy" pies required several huge deep dishes.  On a lining of thick pastry a layer of lamb, well seasoned with pepper and salt, was followed by a layer of shredded parsley; more lamb, more parsley, and so on until the dish was full. Thin cream was poured over to keep the filling moist and make a rich gravy, then the whole covered with a pastry crust glazed with beaten egg.
For dessert there were blackberry and apple pies served with clotted cream;  rice puddings flavoured with nutmeg; and perhaps an enormous buttermilk cake.

In smaller homes, where cooking was done over an open fire, a rump of beef, a couple of fowls and a piece of streaky pork would be cooked together in a large crock standing on a trivet in the hearth.  A cloam oven in the fireplace was perfect for baking a rabbit pie and a figgy pudding.  Turnips, carrots and other veg - in net bags for convenience - were cooked in the meat liquor and a pot of potatoes steamed over a few embers at one end of the hearth.  When ready the bags of veg were laid on crossed sticks above the crock to drain and keep hot.  The beef and pork were carved onto huge platters and the fowls dressed with a sauce of butter and parsley.

Feast Day was a time of celebration and no work (except for milking)  so second and third helpings were the order of the day. After a nip of brandy to settle the stomach, jugs of hot toddy were placed on the table along with a little tray of shag tobacco and long pipes.  In the scullery plates and cutlery were washed, crocks and pans put away. Leaving the men to smoke and yarn, the women withdrew to another room for a cosy chat.  Between 5pm and 6pm the big kettle would be refilled and placed on the trivet.  After plates of bread and butter, scones spread with jam and clotted cream, at least two different kinds of cake, and cups of strong tea everyone returned home.

Jane Jackson

Friday, December 09, 2011

Christmas at Hartford Hall

My latest book with Aurora/Musa was released on 2nd December. Here is a short extract for you to read. I've also included the 5* review - I think this is only the second one I've had with 5* Needless to say I'm delighted.

Elizabeth was lost in thought, recalling two Christmases ago when Grandfather had been well. From nowhere a horse reared up behind her. She had no chance to hurl herself to safety. Her last thought as she fell beneath the plunging feet was that she would be with her beloved relative at Christmas after all.

Her mouth was full of snow, her basket no longer in her possession, but she was not dead. She daren’t move. She was beneath a team of spirited horses. She could be trampled to death at any moment. Then two hands grasped her shoulders and she was hauled backwards through the snow in a most undignified manner and set firmly on her feet.

She spat the last of the white stuff from her mouth and glared up into the face of the most attractive man she’d ever seen in her life. He would have been even more handsome if he were not scowling back at her.

“What the devil were you thinking of? I could have killed you. Walking down the middle of a lane is the height of folly.”

This was the outside of enough. The wretched man had all but run her over and was now blaming her for his foolhardy actions. “That I am not dead is no thanks to you. Perhaps it has escaped your attention, sir, but the only place it is possible to walk at the moment is down the middle of the lane.”

He frowned down at her, his startlingly blue eyes unfriendly. “I do not intend to stand here bandying words with a servant girl, my cattle will freeze.” He raked her with an icy stare. “As you are obviously unhurt, I shall continue my journey.”

Good grief, what a ridiculous vehicle he was travelling in. She couldn’t help herself, her lips twitched and she hastily raised a hand to cover her smile. “I would think, sir, that driving in the depths of winter in that carriage might be considered even more foolish than my walking in the middle of the road.”

She thought he would suffer an apoplexy. His lips thinned and he seemed to grow several inches. Now he was even more formidable. His many-caped driving coat was snow-covered, his beaver equally whitened. If she thought of him as a rather cross snowman perhaps he would not seem so alarming.

Then his expression changed, his anger gone, and he smiled. My word! He was far more dangerous to her composure when he did this then when he glared at her.

“I beg your pardon, miss. The relief that you were not killed has made me behave appallingly. Although my carriage is not ideal, allow me to give you a ride to your destination. It’s the least I could do.”

Flustered by his mercurial change and not quite sure she wished to be squashed between him and his manservant so high from the ground, she shook her head vehemently. “No, it would be most improper. You continue your journey. I have not far to go; pray do not worry about me.”

Rating: 5.0
Reviewer Name: Desireé Frazier
Review:I fell in love with this story during the very first scene. It is a lovely take on the classic Cinderella tale set during Christmas time and although I normally like a longer story, so I can get to know the characters better, I did not feel slighted in the least! The characters are well thought out and while reading you will find yourself lost in the story, almost able to smell the garlands and the holly! It’s a quick read and from start to finish you will love this book!
Happy Christmas Fenella

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Georgian and Regency Greenwich

This month I have a new book out in the US, Desired, book 5 in my Scandalous Women of the Ton series. Desired will be out in the UK next year. One of the geographical locations I used for the book was Greenwich. I love modern day Greenwich with its park, riverfront and Maritime Museum and as a place with a long and fascinating history it proved to be a very interesting setting for a book.

Here are a few of the things I learned about Greenwich in the course of my research:

At the beginning of the 18th century Greenwich was an impoverished fishing village on the Thames with no more than a collection of timber cottages on some dirty lanes and some very dodgy inns such as Fubb’s Yacht, a notorious “beer house” for the sailors. By the end of the century, however, planners were imposing order and geometry on the growing town, designing houses in the style of Bath or Cheltenham but on a miniature scale. Gloucester Circus was the epitome of this, two crescents of houses enclosing a central circle. Only one of these crescents was built and the twenty-one houses, completed in 1809, are still standing.

Greenwich was the place where the body of Lord Nelson was brought ashore after his death at the Battle of Trafalgar. It was Christmas Eve 1805 and crowds had gathered but the weather was so poor that by the time the ship carrying Nelson finally arrived in Greenwich at 8pm, everyone had gone home assuming that he would not arrive that day. The sailors carrying Nelson’s coffin had to leave it at the top of the riverfront steps whilst they went off to find someone to let them in to the Seaman’s Hospital.

Princess Caroline, wife of the Prince Regent, rented Montague House in nearby Blackheath from 1798 and was a fixture on the Greenwich party scene. One guest commented of her: “The Princess is grown very coarse and she dresses very ill, shewing too much of her naked person.”

The Blackheath caverns were a considerable tourist attraction during the Regency period. They consisted of four underground caves cut from the chalk. They appealed to the romantically inclined as dating from an age long past and there were wild theories about their origins and purpose. Visitors complained of the cold and the spooky atmosphere and suggested that they had been created in Anglo Saxon times as a hiding place from the Vikings. In fact they originated as a 16th century quarry but this explanation was not suitably gothic to satisfy people. During the 19th century candles were installed in the caves and masked balls held there. These were considered extremely indecorous.

I drew much of my research from “The Story of Greenwich” by Clive Aslet and “Greenwich” by Charles Jennings which are both great reads as well as being packed full of useful facts.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Henry Tilney's Diary - US paperback

Today I'm celebrating the release of the US paperback of Henry Tilney's Diary. I feel an enormous sense of satisfaction in seeing this book make it to the US in paperback, just as I felt a sense of satisfaction when the UK hardback came out, because it's the last of my Jane Austen retellings. I absolutely adore Jane Austen. I love her humour, her sharp eye for detail and her memorable characters and it's been a labour of love for me to look at her novels through the eyes of the heroes. Sometimes the results have been very surprising.

It all began back in 2005 when Darcy's Diary came out. The US rights were quickly snapped up by Sourcebooks, who brought out the US paperback (called Mr Darcy's Diary) two years later. Then followed the other books in the series, with beautifully romantic covers from Penguin in the US, and classic covers from Hale and Sourcebooks in the UK (also Mr Darcy's Diary in the US).

And now, to cap it all, the books are all out in ebook form, including Kindle. In fact, Captain Wentworth's Diary is out in a special edition combined with Jane Austen's Persuasion. There's an active table of contents to let you navigate easily around the book, and at a special price of 86p (yes, 86p!) it's a perfect treat.

What a way to celebrate Christmas!

Monday, December 05, 2011

Sleeping in a four-poster bed

I am lucky enough to have inherited a four-poster bed. It dates from around 1850 and is 5 ft 6 ins wide, 6 ft 8 ins long, and nearly 8 ft high. Fortunately, my terraced 1820 house has high ceilings. Sleeping in it is like being on board a galleon – I have a canopy over my head and curtains like sails.

The oak roof frame has a walnut cornice elegantly curved and decorated on the outside and the two posts at the foot of the bed are also carved walnut. Walnut is a hard wood, difficult to carve and the barley sugar twists demonstrate that the bed, whilst not being of stately home status, was a classy one.

The whole bed comes apart (think IKEA 19th century style). The last time I moved it (from the first floor to the second floor), it took about four hours to dismantle and reassemble. The base oak timbers slot together neatly and are secured to the four upright posts by long bolts - with their own, specially-made screwdriver. When not in use, this hangs by a piece of string under the bed – as it has done for over 160 years. The bolt holes are cunningly hidden under small rectangular carved panels which you can lever out with a bent pin, and then push back into place.

The roof frame also slots together and there is a spike at the top of each post which the frame fits onto – this bit is fiddly (it’s 8 feet up) and usually entails a certain amount of cursing. Originally, it had a horse hair mattress. It was lumpy, the hairs came through the frayed 19th century ticking and it gave me asthma, so it had to go. I now have a comfortable modern mattress.

There are ten separate bed curtains: three roof pelmets, three valances to cover the legs, two side curtains, one head board curtain and the roof canopy. They are held up by either doweling or curtain wires. The annual wash, not to mention hanging everything back in the right place, is quite a chore – at least I have the benefit of a washing machine and a modern iron, unlike a 19th century housemaid.

It is also higher than most modern beds; the mattress is 2 ft 9 ins off the floor. When my daughter was little she wanted to live under the bed. It’s perfectly possible to crawl underneath and, doubtless, once upon a time, it would have housed a truckle bed for a servant or child. Nowadays, a number of suitcases, some boxes and my Christmas decorations live there.

I love sleeping in it, and I write whilst sitting comfortably propped up with a cushion against the headboard. And, of course, if I ever need to feature a bed in a novel (and which of us doesn’t!) then I only have to look at my wonderful four-poster for inspiration.

Elizabeth Hawksley

Saturday, December 03, 2011


Win a Kindle! 
The Harlequin Historical Authors Holiday Giveaway is back. In the spirit of an Advent calendar, the authors are giving away daily prizes and a Grand Prize of a Kindle Fire. Play every day for more chances to win.

Each participating author will have an activity planned on their website for their special day. You may be asked to comment on a blog, find an ornament, or visit a Facebook page. For each day you participate, your name will be entered into the Grand Prize drawing. At the end of the month on December 23, one day from the calendar will be randomly selected. One of the entrants from that day will then be randomly selected to win the Kindle. 
I shall be putting a competition on my Sarah Mallory website on the 19th December and giving away a special prize plus a copy of  One Snowy Regency Christmas (plus one copy of the book to a runner up)  so look out for more details on the day, but remember the more days you visit, the better your chances of winning !


Click here for full details.Good luck!
Sarah Mallory
Snowbound with the Notorious Rake
pub. North America Dec 2011
and as part of "One Snowy Regency Christmas"

Thursday, December 01, 2011

A launch with a difference

Yesterday I went to the launch of Beryl Kingston’s new novel ‘Off The Rails’ about George Hudson of York. Born in 1800, Lord Mayor of York for three terms and known as the 'Railway King' because of his assiduity in becoming chairman of as many Railway Companies as possible, he was a colourful and not always fiscally responsible character. Indeed, his creative accounting led to his being imprisoned later on in his career.

The launch was held in York's Holy Trinity Church with its Georgian box pews, giving a semblance of privacy to the worshippers - and as we discovered, cutting off the worst of the draughts! It was lovely for me sitting in the pews and imagining what my own characters might get up to in the semi-privacy. Certainly hands touching on sharing hymn books and feet rubbing against each other would not have been an impossibility.

Beryl Kingston with 'George Hudson'
Ahem. Back to Beryl's launch. The pulpit is a central one and the ‘difference’ in this launch was that a local actor used it as a focal point for a dramatic monologue by ‘George Hudson’ himself, romping entertainingly through his life story. I shall, of course, read the book, but the dramatic content brought it all vividly to mind and will enhance the experience.

And the mulled wine and sausage rolls that followed were more than welcome on a very cold day!

[Many thanks to Holy Trinity and Mike Jarman for photographs]

Jan Jones

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Ode to a Vampire

This is my latest romance from M&B
It is a Medieval, out now in paperback and soon in ebook.

I wrote a little poem. I also have a couple of Vampire ebooks out as Anne Ireland. The curse of Beauty and a Modern Vampire

Ode to a Vampire

Midnight in her hair; I turn and she is there.

She walks the darkest hours; I feel her mind, I know her kind.

She will have my soul, yet still I heed her call, my lady of the midnight air.

Upon my face her breath will mean my death, yet in her arms I’ll lie before the night is gone. For her sweet

kiss I’ll give my life and leave my gentle loving wife and all my friends and in their place no peace have won.

No more sunlit hours, no happy days I’ll know; instead I’ll walk the night at her side, my lady of the dark

night air. I’ve fought her song so long but now her call I heed. My soul cries out in need. She lifts her hand

and I must go. As she is now so shall I be, a terrible sweet aching agony possesses me.

Farewell my life, my friends, my sweet children too.

She calls and I will answer for she owns my soul, my mind, my very breath.

Midnight in her hair; I turn and she is there.

Hope you enjoyed the poem.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Jane Austen Made Me Do It!

When Laurel Ann Nattress of Austenprose contacted me about a new anthology she was putting together I knew straight away I'd like to be a part of it especially as I'd be sharing the wonderful company of fellow authors Amanda Grange, Monica Fairview and Jo Beverley.
Our brief was to write a 5000 word short story for the anthology, Jane Austen Made Me Do It, and as long as it related to Jane Austen in some way we were invited to let our imaginations take flight. The result is a collection of 22 stories-a veritable chocolate box of tales inspired by Jane Austen, some historical and some contemporary.

Amanda Grange's story is Mr. Bennet Meets his Match.
On his daughters’ wedding day, Mr. John Bennet’s mind drifts back to the events of twenty-three years before, and the events leading to his own marriage . . . Encouraged by his parents to marry sooner rather than later and thereby provide a new generation of Bennet heirs for the estate, John laughed at their hurry. However, a meeting with his Cousin Collins, who was next in line for the entail, and an unfortunate accident, made him reconsider his position, and the proximity of the lively, pretty Miss Jane Gardiner sealed his fate.

Monica Fairview's story is Nothing Less than Fairyland.
In this gently humorous story inspired by Jane Austen’s novel Emma, the day has come for Mr. Knightley to move into Hartfield, but Mr. Woodhouse is still not reconciled to the marriage. Trouble looms on the horizon, unless Emma can quickly come up with a way to convince her papa to accept Mr. Knightley’s presence.

Jo Beverley's story is The Mistletoe Kiss.
Elinor Carsholt is living on the charity of a connection of her late husband’s in the village of Chawton, facing a dismal future for her three young daughters, until she begins to hope that her oldest daughter Amy has caught the eye of local baronet Sir Nicholas Danvers. Amy must have been sneaking out for clandestine meetings, which disturbs her, and there is a ten-year age difference, but still, it would be the saving of them all.
When she and the girls go out on Christmas Eve to look for holly, ivy, and mistletoe, Elinor is still undecided and rejects Amy’s urging to go to Sir Nicholas’s estate in search of mistletoe, but then local resident Miss Austen drives by in her donkey cart and pauses to chat.Elinor doesn’t really approve of Miss Jane Austen, for she’s been told she writes novels, which Elinor thinks a bad influence on young female minds, but she has to be polite. Miss Jane turns talk to love and marriage, expressing far too romantic a view, but she also assures them all that Sir Nicholas would be delighted if they searched his orchard for mistletoe, changing the course of their lives.

My story is Waiting.
Captain Wentworth and his beloved Anne Elliot have waited almost nine years to be together. At last all misunderstandings are swept aside. They have declared their love for one another, and all that remains is for their union to be blessed by Anne’s father, the irascible Sir Walter Elliot, and for the family members to be told. As Anne and Frederick ponder their futures each is reminded of the past, and all that has happened.
Persuasion is my favourite Jane Austen novel, and so I knew straight away this was the story I wanted to write. I'd always wondered how Anne Elliot's family would react to the news that she and Captain Wentworth were going to be married, and I also couldn't resist having them look back to the time when they first met. It was such fun writing the characters of Sir Walter Elliot, Anne's sisters Elizabeth and Mary, and of course Anne and Frederick Wentworth too!

Here's a short excerpt:

Captain Wentworth was awake early to witness the greyness of the day, mists rising in a smoking pall above the city along with the icy rain which lashed at the windows of his lodgings in a manner fit for any storm at sea. His spirits were high, though to tell the truth, he was more than a little nervous at the prospect of the interview he was about to face. As he adjusted the cuffs at his wrists, he glanced out of the window to observe the dash of carriages rolling round the square depositing new arrivals in Bath.

Had it only been yesterday when the unimaginable had happened at last? Frederick recalled every second of the encounter, revived every feeling. They’d met in Union Street. He’d been almost afraid to witness her reaction to the heartfelt letter he’d sent. But he needn’t have worried. Her eyes had spoken the sentiments she could not immediately express. Anne Elliot had taken his arm, and he’d sheltered her from the rain with his umbrella.

From his viewpoint past the railings on the other side of Queen Square, Gay Street effortlessly progressed up its steep incline, elegant façades on either side ascending to the Circus much as he and Anne had advanced before turning off to find the relative quiet of the Gravel Walk. Heedless of the sauntering politicians, bustling housekeepers, and flirting girls around them, they had confessed all their hidden, secret feelings, buried for so long.
“She loves me, as I love her,” he said out loud to confirm the truth to himself. He wanted to open the window and shout it out to the muffin man below. “Anne Elliot never stopped loving me from the day we parted. Oh, that my stubborn pride had not prevented me from seeking her out sooner. I’ve wasted almost nine precious years when we could have been together! I admit; I felt very differently all those years ago when she rejected me. I held her in contempt then, although sweet Anne, I now believe, was perfectly justified in withdrawing from our engagement. I was proud, made to feel that I was not good enough for a baronet’s daughter, and the truth of it stung me to my very soul. But there is little point in grieving over the past; I must look to the future with the girl I love most in the world by my side. My only fear, nay dread, concerns the interview I am to have with her father this morning. Not that his consent really matters. Anne will not be persuaded against her wishes this time, not like the first time. We are older, and, I hope, much wiser, both secure in the knowledge that our love is ever true and constant. But, this will not do, I have an appointment with Sir Walter, and I must not be late!”

I had a lot of fun writing this story-if you know a Janeite, why not pop it in their stocking this Christmas?!

Jane Odiwe

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Books Under the Christmas Tree?

The rapid approach of Christmas made me think about books for presents and titles I have particularly enjoyed adding to my collection this year. I thought I'd share five of them that might make useful additions to your own list for Santa, or provide inspiration for gifts for history-buff friends.

My first is from Shire Publications, but is a much larger volume than the familiar Shire guides. Peter Matthew's London's Bridges covers them all from Hampton Court Bridge to Tower Bridge with excellent photographs and historic images. I've found it invaluable for working out what was in existence at a particular date and what it looked like then. But beside that practical use, it is full of fascinating stories and facts.

Staying with the watery theme, the next title is James Stevens Curl Spas, Wells & Pleasure Gardens of London. This contains exactly what it says on the cover - a comprehensive survey of every one of these attractions from the 17th to the 19th centuries. There are the famous, such as Sadler's Wells and Vauxhall Gardens and the obscure - Finch's Grotto Gardens, Acton Wells, the Bayswater Tea Gardens and the Devil's House. As well as the facts about each site there is a fascinating exploration of the social background.

My absolute favourite exhibition this year was the National Portrait Gallery's Thomas Lawrence: Regency Power & Brilliance. The effect for me was of eating very expensive chocolates while wrapped in warm velvet - luxurious, sensual and completely addictive! The catalogue, which is loaded with illustrations, is the next best thing to being able to smuggle a Lawrence home with me. (And for sheer swash-buckling gorgeousness, any author in search of a hero couldn't go far wrong with the portrait of Charles William Vane-Stewart, later 3rd Marquess of Londonderry. Phew!).

A rather less flamboyant man is depicted in The Journal of a Georgian Gentleman: the Life & Times of Richard Hall, 1729-1801, edited  by his 4-times grandson, Mike Rendell.
This is packed full of everything from household accounts to observations on ballooning, the wild beasts at the Talbot Inn, the weather, the games the family played, recipes - an absolutely fascinating lucky dip into the life of a Georgian gentleman of the middling sort. My only criticism is the lack of an index.

Fully indexed and with a useful bibliograhy is Coachmaker: the Life & Times of Philip Godsal 1747-1826 by John Ford. Godsall was one of the top coachmakers of his time and left a detailed record of his business and his social and domestic life. He was incredibly well connected - a son in the household of George III, one daughter married to an MP, another to Nelson's attorney. He even supplied a carriage to Napeoleon's mother! He travelled all over the country and this beautifully illustrated book includes information on Cheltenham, the theatre, food and drink, gardening and a host of other topics as well as fascinating insights into carriage-making. 

And finally, if you need a stocking-filler, there is my Walks Through Regency London - ten walks through modern London taking you into the world of the "long Regency" and illustrated throughout with original Regency prints.  It is available from my website at £7.50 plus postage.
Have you any books you'd recommend for Christmas? I'd love to hear about it if you have - there is just room on my bookshelves for a few more.
Happy Christmas shopping!


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Do-It-Yourself Regency Romance

This is a post that I, and several other authors, at least two of whom are on this blog, compiled a few years ago. Interesting how it holds the test of time!
The only thing I'd ask is that you don't take this completely seriously! (as if you would!)
I won't name the other authors for fear of leaving someone out, and in case they prefer to preserve their anonymity.

Writing a Regency Romance (excluding Scottish romances)
Choose one of the following in each section.
 Writing a Regency Romance (excluding Scottish romances)
Choose one of the following in each section.

The hero is:
1.    A rake about town
2.    An army officer (captain or above, please, no lieutenants)
3.    A widower with small children
4.    A pirate duke (marquis or earl will do at a pinch)
5.    A spy who is also a peer of the realm

The hero is never:
1.    Geeky, spotty or bald.
2.    overweight
3.    Reasonably cautious and sensible.
4.    Shorter than the heroine.
5.    If he wears spectacles, he isn’t dependant on them and can lose them at convenient times without any ill effects.

The heroine is:
1.    A clever, beautiful ingénue
2.    A bookworm not interested in society or husband hunting
3.    An older spinster looking for a husband for her beautiful younger sister
4.    A governess or housekeeper, usually the daughter of a peer fallen on hard times
5.    A young girl forced to wear a male disguise and work as a secretary/groom or something similar.
6.    A young American heiress, despising English society.
7.    A highwayman/urchin/thief by night, a respectable member of society by day.
8.    A young woman fighting to save her family from financial ruin, caused by the gambling habit of her brother or father, or even both.

The heroine is never:
1.    A respectable young woman with a good fortune looking for a future husband.
2.    A war widow, who has lost her husband in the Napoleonic wars and has now returned to society.
3.    The daughter of a City gentleman, looking to increase her social standing. This is Bad because it makes her look mercenary.
4.    Less than stunningly beautiful, clever and accomplished, even if she tries to hide these facts at the start of the story.

They meet:
1.    In a country inn, where they get snowed in.
2.    In a ballroom, where she hates him on sight.
3.    At the gates of a country house, where she mistakes him for the gardener or he mistakes her for a maid.
4.    On the road, he in his phaeton, she in her travelling carriage.
5.    At the altar.
6.    In a gaming hell where she is the stake.
7.    At a secluded lake where the heroine or hero is taking an impromptu bath.

They never meet:
1.    By being introduced by their parents, who want to see if they would like to make a match of it.
2.    By promenading in the park at the fashionable hour.
3.    They have always known each other, because society is small, and they are, in fact, distantly related.

1.    Hate each other on sight, but are filled with lustful thoughts
2.    He loves her, she hates him.
3.    She loves him, he hates her.

They never;
1.    Take a liking to each other without it being accompanied by lustful thoughts.

Note: 2 and 3 must be accompanied by a Big Misunderstanding. They must always fancy each other’s pants off on sight, or It Isn’t A Romance.

The first time they make love is:
1.    In the marriage bed (boring unless they met for the first time at the altar)
2.    In a small antechamber set conveniently close to a ballroom
3.    In a summerhouse
4.    In a small cottage where they’ve taken refuge from the storm
5.    In his library where she has gone in the middle of the night, barefoot, in search of a book to read. He is already there in his shirtsleeves, drinking.

The villain:
Choose one or two of the following:
1.    The hero’s brother who wants the title. He is usually handsome, etc, but not as handsome etc as the hero.
2.    The hero’s ex mistress (see below)
3.    The heroine’s father. He is usually a gambler who has lost the family fortune and now wants to sell the heroine in a card game.
4.    A man who wants the heroine, but isn’t prepared to marry her. He may abduct her, take her to Gretna, etc. to achieve his wicked end. He will not rape her, though it is usually a near thing. He often seems to be a pleasant character.

Secondary characters:
1.    The hero’s best friend. Usually another peer, with a set of problems of his own. He will get his own story later. Repeat as necessary to create a series.
2.    The heroine’s sister. She provides plot problems, adds comments, and is there because she’ll get her book later.
3.    The heroine’s closest friends. See heroine’s sister.
4.    The hero’s ex mistress. Jealous, experienced, may be the villain. When she is not, she is always jealous of the heroine, and she plots against her.

You may pick as many of the following as you wish, to give color to your story:
1.    An urchin, cheeky but very poor, a boon companion of the hero or heroine. This may be actually the heroine in disguise.
2.    An old retainer, a maid who used to be the heroine’s nurse. She is referred to by her Christian name and magically has all the skills required of a good lady’s maid.
3.    A valet. He may be either scoundrelly and talk with Dick Van Dyke Mockney, or superior, and talk like Jeeves.
4.    A butler. Superior, tall, talks like Jeeves, or short and fat and an old retainer who knows all the family by their first names, prefaced by “Miss” or “Master.”
5.    A Bow Street Runner, usually less intelligent than the hero or heroine. Always on the side of good, he is upright and honest (unlike the usual run of BSR’s in RL)
6.    An old man, who the heroine is required to marry to restore the family fortunes.

So what are you waiting for? Get writing!

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Wheat Clover and Coleseed

I was thinking what to post this morning on this grey November day and remembered I had a wonderful little book called "Seedtime & Harvest", the diary of an Essex farmer, William Barnard of Harlowbury.There are two entries on either side of today's date.
Nov 7 (1812)
The land is now more firm than it has been for some time. I have drilled 9 acres Upper stoney & finished sowing Wheat yesterday in Grassy piece, nearly the whole of which I have drilled & and have done 4 or 5 acres of my pea land over again; I fear Sweetendiness will be a very deficient plant. I had lodged 43 wether sheep in Hillyfield & last night 3 were slaughtered, the Offal left & carcasses taken away. I sowed 10 stetches of white wheat hither side of Nine acres & on the thirteenth stetch from this side began to sow 1 Quarter of Buncle Wheat I bought of Fresland. Grassy piece is now sowed with Day's Wheat except about three roods next to Woody piece.
Nov 10 (1821)
This has been a fine week since the 5 but on the 4 we had great storms of wind & rain. I have plowed at the other farm & carted haulm. My house was broken into & robbed of a gun,a coat, knives & forks, spoons, a desk and &c & without anyone being disturbed by them on the night of the 7th.

The spelling and punctuation are his.

I find it quite extraordinary that in both entries he reports he has been robbed as if it is commonplace and no more important than planting his wheat. In the first entry rustlers killed and took three sheep and and in the second his house was broken into and a substantial amount removed.
I love the way his farm is named so sensibly- Grassy piece, Woody piece etc.
I have no idea how much a a 'stetch' is or what 'haulm' might be. Any suggestions?
I think it's a pity Sweetendiness was a deficient plant or we might still have something with that wonderful name.
Fenella Miller
I now have four books with Musa Aurora Regency and 'Christmas at Hartford Hall' coming out in December and another one next year.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

A Regency Moment

Last month, at the Regency Readers’ Day in London, I had the opportunity to try on Regency costume, courtesy of Jane Walton of Hands on History who specializes in both original and reproduction historical costumes. It was a taste only because Jane’s rack of clothes was in a public room and there was a limit to how far I was prepared to undress. Fortunately, my underwear was respectable so I stripped off my outer layer and Jane handed me a shift.

The shift was the basic item of female underwear; made of hard-wearing linen and easily washable. We know that, in 1789, Jane Austen bought enough Irish linen to make six shifts and four pairs of stockings. It was also surprisingly warm, which was just as well because it was a chilly autumn day.

Then I was handed what looked like an outside pillow-case with sleeves. This was my muslin gown and, at first, I just couldn’t see how one wore it. Jane explained that the drawstrings around the neck, wrists and under the bust allowed it to be gathered in and assured me that ‘one size fits all’. Sceptically, I put it on. Jane adjusted the drawstrings, arranged the gathers and, instantly, it was transformed into a charming gown. I looked at myself in the mirror and began to feel Regency. Together with the shift, it felt both light and warm. Suddenly, all those Regency heroines wearing the flimsiest of muslins in cold weather began to be credible.

I realized that turning a length of muslin into a wearable garment would be quick work for experienced needlewomen like Jane and her sister, Cassandra. Jane Austen’s letters to Cassandra are full of shopping for muslins. When staying with her brother Henry in London in 1811, for example, she went to Grafton House, and bought ten yards of a ‘pretty coloured muslin’ as well as some ‘bugle trimming’, silk stockings (extravagant!), a ‘very pretty little bonnet’ and a pelisse – but the buttons were expensive.

It was time for my spencer, a cropped jacket in a red, thick velvet-like kerseymere (I’d always wondered what kerseymere looked like) with some distinctly military silver frogging. It was close fitting, boned and it made you stand up straight.

Then came the poke bonnet. Oh dear, it looked as though I was going to be blinkered like a horse. But no, in spite of appearances to the contrary, the brim started quite far back on the head and I could see perfectly easily. Jane tied the ribbons in a de rigeur bow at the side.

So there I was and it all felt surprisingly warm, comfortable and natural – see photo. Shame about the watch, though.

Elizabeth Hawksley

Thursday, November 03, 2011

It's that time of year again!

I know it's only November but I am going to mention the dreaded "C" word. After all, the shops are already full of glitter and presents and the television is showing ads for the latest perfume and all those things you never realised you needed. And the publishing world is gearing up for the festive season, too.

My latest Sarah Mallory is on the shelves now, as part of a Christmas Special called One Snowy Regency Christmas.  I love the cover of this book, it looks like a beautiful Christmas card, but I wanted to share with you the painting that was the inspiration for this book.

We were on holiday on Exmoor, staying at the beautiful little village of Porlock and when we were at one of the local inns, the Ship, I saw a copy of the painting below.  It is called "Journey's End" by a local artist, Maurice Bishop.  Once I had seen it I knew I just had to have a copy, and at the same time my mind was working overtime, thinking of a story that involved my hero and heroine being snowbound in a house on the moors. I also wanted to use Porlock, so I changed its name of the village to Mersecombe, but kept an inn called the Ship.

Then, as we were making our way home from the holiday, my editor rang to ask if I could write a special Christmas story.  The timing could not have been better, and the result is "Snowbound with the Notorious Rake."

So, what do you think of when you see "Journey's End"? I have a framed print on my wall now (signed by the artist) and I must admit, I think there may be several other stories to come out of this yet…..

I am very grateful to Maurice Bishop for allowing me to use this image, and if you want to see more of Maurice's work, go to

Sarah Mallory

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

The Geffrye Museum

Tucked away near Shoreditch is the Geffrye Museum. It doesn't look like a museum from the outside, it looks like a long, graceful Georgian almshouse set in a pleasant garden - which is what it used to be.

Today, it is a lively, vibrant space housing interiors-through-the-ages. You walk from a hall in 1630

past a drawing room in 1830 right up to rooms on the more recent past. It is fascinating to see how tastes change - and how growing affluence is reflected in the furnishings.

There is more to the museum than just a collection of rooms, however - small gardens outside also reflect the changing times with different plantings and different designs.

Fascinating - well worth a visit.

Jan Jones

Monday, October 31, 2011

Colonel Brandon's Diary - UK paperback

I'm absolutely thrilled that the UK paperback of Colonel Brandon's Diary is finally here. Its publication date was chosen to coincide with the bicentennial of Sense and Sensibility and it's a beautiful edition, I just love the cover. It's taken from the same portrait as the hardback cover, but it shows more of it, so that we see "Brandon" is holding "little Eliza" by the hand.

When I set out to write my retelling of Sense and Sensibility, I was intending to write Edward's diary, but as soon as I came across the short passage in which Brandon recounts his tragic past, I knew that his was the diary I had to write. From optimistic youth to devastated young man to bereaved adult - and then, miraculously to a man of hope and love again, courtesy of Marianne Dashwood - I loved every minute of writing his diary, and I hope you love reading it, too.

Here's a taster from the middle of the book, when Brandon challenges Willoughby to a duel.

The carriage pulled away. The horses’ hooves sounding strangely muted and the turning of the wheels was no more than a grating whisper as the carriage bumped over the cobbles.
‘This damnable fog,’ said Green, peering out of the window. ‘I hope it clears by the time we reach the heath or you will not be able to see each other, let alone fire.’
We were in luck. When we stepped out onto the heath we could see for twenty paces, enough for our business.

There was no sign of Willoughby’s carriage.
Ten minutes later Willoughby arrived, attended by two men who looked nervous, as well they might. They were dandies, not soldiers, and had probably never been seconds in their lives.
‘I will give him another chance to change his mind,’ said Green.
He went over to Willoughby, they had words, and Green returned, saying, ‘The duel is to go ahead. It is for you to choose the distance, Brandon.’
That done, the seconds met in the middle and loaded the pistols in each other’s presence to ensure fair play, then Green and Wareham returned to hand me my weapon.

‘Willoughby’s man is to count the paces. After the count of ten, you may turn and fire at will. Is this agreeable to you?’
‘It is.’
‘Then let us get it over with.’
I removed my coat. Across the heath, Willoughby removed his. The fog was lifting minute by minute, and I could see him clearly. We came together and stood back to back. His man counted the paces. One . . . two . . . three . . . four . . . five . . . I thought of Eliza abandoned and left all alone . . .six . . . seven . . . eight . . . nine . . .
I turned.

He turned, too, his arm already raised. He rushed his shot, firing without taking proper aim, and the bullet went wide, so wide I did not even feel it pass. He blanched, and dropped his arm. I saw his knees begin to buckle. I lifted my arm. And then he turned and I thought that he would run. But the horrified look on the faces on his seconds curtailed his cowardice and he turned back towards me, white faced and trembling, turned sideways on to present as small a target as possible.
For Eliza, I thought.
I took aim.

But as I did so, I saw not Willoughby and not Eliza, but Marianne. I imagined her face as she heard that Willoughby was dead; I imagined her grief, and I was horrified, for, if she was still enamoured of him, she would not grieve easily or quietly, but would suffer with all the depth of her being. If I killed him, I would cause her great pain, and with her nature, it was a pain she would not be certain of overcoming. And so I raised my arm and fired into the air.
Willoughby fell to his knees, and had to be assisted to his feet by his seconds.
I walked over to him and looked at him in disgust.
‘You are not worth shooting,’ I said.

Then Green brought me my coat and we climbed into the carriage. It pulled away, jolting over the heath before turning on to the road.
We went back to Green and Wareham’s lodgings. By the time we reached them, a wind had sprung up and it had driven most of the fog away, revealing a cold, clean light as a pale sun broke through the clouds.
‘You deloped,’ said Wareham, as we went inside. ‘Why?’
‘Because there is another young woman caught in Willoughby’s toils,’ I said, as I took off my outdoor clothes and threw myself into a chair, ‘and I feared that, if I killed him, she would love him for ever.’

Colonel Brandon's Diary is in UK bookshops now, or you can order from The Book Depository which offers free worldwide postage and packing, as well as Amazon and other sellers.

Amanda Grange

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Dangerous To Know

Dangerous To Know/ Linda Sole
Now published in kindle and at ARE

This is for the readers who wanted Northaven's Story!


The Marquis of Mooraven yawned behind his hand, and, having gathered up his winnings, rose from the table more than two thousand guineas richer than he’d been when he sat down. He felt no elation, though there was a time when he’d needed every penny he won from his gambling, but that was before his Uncle Tomas obligingly left him his title, estate and fortune. He had several titles to his name, amongst them earl, marquis, twice over, baron and count, but was using his uncle’s for reasons of his own. In time, he might end as a duke by way of his mother’s family being in danger of losing every male heir in the line. The dowager duchess had summoned him only two days before he left for Paris.

‘My husband’s father had the deed of title altered so that if his male heirs failed his daughters might inherit the dukedom as well as the estate. As you know, my only surviving daughter died last year and her infant son is sickly. My three sons have died. That leaves you, Mooraven – my sister-in-law’s grandson. Sorry as I am to say it, if the child dies you will become Duke of Rothmere.’

‘How tiresome for you,’ Mooraven drawled. He had crossed swords with the dowager before, and though he did not dislike her, knew that she disapproved of him with every bone of her body. ‘You must guard him well, ma’am. I advise you to employ the best nannies – and have him seen regularly by a doctor of good repute.’

‘You almost sound sincere.’ The elderly lady fixed him with a hawkish stare. ‘Did I not know you for a rogue and a scoundrel I might believe you had no interest in the Rothmere fortune.’

‘If that is your only concern, you may sleep easily in your bed,’ Mooraven replied, a faint smile on his sensual lips. ‘I may run through my fortune once more if I suffer heavy losses at the table, but I have more sense than to gamble away my entire inheritance. I assure you I wish young William nothing but good fortune.’

‘I am an old woman,’ the dowager said. ‘I may not have long to live. Rothmere has no male relatives to care for him – except you, though you are in truth too far removed. I dare not hope that you would take an interest in his welfare?’

‘Should I hear of your unfortunate demise, which I hope may be some years distant, I would offer my help – such as it is. I should not have thought you would care to have your precious heir subjected to my influence?’

‘Needs must when the devil drives.’ She arched her brows at him. ‘Are all the stories true, Mooraven? I hear that you have ruined virgins, fleeced green youths at the card table and only God knows what else. A little wildness in youth is acceptable, but surely you have sown your oats by now? Where is your pride? You have good blood in your veins. Show a little decency. Marry and settle down before it is too late. If you continue this way no decent woman will have you.’

‘What makes you think it is not already too late?’ A faintly mocking smile played over his lips. ‘Do you not know that they say I have sold my soul to Lucifer?’

‘Do not be ridiculous! I should not believe such tales – but I do believe that you have ruined young women for I knew one of them. Miss Hazelton’s mother was once a friend of my daughter…’

‘Since you know me for the rogue I am, why should I deny it? All you need to concern yourself with, duchess, is that your heir is safe from me – and if need be, I shall be his guardian, if not his mentor.’

‘I thought the girl sly,’ the duchess said, surprising him. ‘I should not be surprised if she lied. Very well, I shall not ask for your confidence. You have given your word and I may rest easy in my mind.’

‘I trust you are not ill, ma’am?’

‘At the moment I am perfectly hale, sir.’

‘Then I may go to Paris with a clear conscience.’

Mooraven had kissed her hand and taken his leave. He sincerely hoped that it would be many years before he was called upon to keep his promise. His work was not yet done. He had an enemy to track down and bring to justice – justice for men foully betrayed. His brow darkened with anger as he thought of the years that he had borne the scorn of men who had once been his friends. They believed him a traitor or at the very least a drunken fool. Though provoked to bitterness and humiliated almost beyond bearing, he had never given them or anyone else a hint of the true story. Until he had found and punished the true traitor he must keep his silence.

Lost in his thoughts, Mooraven did not notice the woman until she knocked into him as she passed. The scent of her perfume alerted his senses and he turned his head to watch her leave the room. She was dressed in black, the most beautiful woman he had seen in an age – a woman who turned all heads.

He’d noticed her briefly earlier in the evening. She had been losing steadily at the tables all night and the glitter in her eyes had prompted him to ask his neighbour who she was.

‘She is the Countess Madeline Dupree,’ the man answered. ‘She was wed to a vile depraved brute who died of some unspeakable illness a few months ago. Until his death she was never seen in company. Now she comes regularly to parties where she can gamble. I lost a thousand francs to her one night. Couldn’t concentrate on my cards when she has such perfect flesh and that gown reveals more of her charms than a man can stand without ravishing her…’

Mooraven had smiled, because the gown dipped daringly to reveal a glimpse of her silken skin and breasts so full and perfect that they must have most of the men in the room lusting after her. A deliberate ploy to make them careless with their cards perhaps – though she seemed to be losing that night.

Why had she knocked into him so heavily? It was almost intentional…a sudden thought made him thrust his hand into his pocket to search for the purse of gold he’d carelessly thrust there when he rose from the tables. His searching fingers found nothing but his kerchief. The gold had gone. She had taken it! For a moment his senses reeled: the countess a thief? Impossible one would think and yet she had lost heavily at the tables.

His gaze narrowed as he went outside, looking for the woman in black. Ahead of him in the dimly lit Paris boulevard he could see her walking swiftly. A burly servant accompanied her but Mooraven’s instincts were alerted. Why had she no carriage? A woman of her breeding and wealth walking the streets with only one servant? He was a tall heavily built man and carried a stout cudgel – but she was still taking a huge risk. The jewels she’d been wearing about her neck had been worth a small fortune – if the diamonds in that collar were genuine, of course. The stones had sparkled enough in the candlelight, which gave him no cause to doubt their worth.

Why would a woman like that leave a card party in the house of a prestigious member of the French aristocracy, to walk home through the streets on foot? It didn’t make sense. He was certain she’d taken his purse and now his hunting instincts were aroused.

He wanted to know more about the mysterious lady in black.

Keeping to the shadows, Mooraven followed the woman and her bodyguard. It seemed that she had not far to go for after walking the length of three streets, the pair stopped outside a large and impressive house. The woman turned to her companion, clearly thanking him for his services. From their gestures, Mooraven thought she was telling him to leave her, but he was hesitating, arguing. After a moment or two he gave in and walked off. The door of the house opened and the woman went in.

Mooraven waited in the shadows until the giant had disappeared. He was about to approach the front door when it opened again and a figure came out. This time it was a youth, who walked swiftly in the same direction the countess’s servant had taken a few minutes earlier.

Mooraven drew back into the shadows, not wanting to be seen by the youth. Once he had disappeared, he approached the house and knocked at the front door. Countess Dupree had some questions to answer.

The knocker sounded eerily, as if the house were empty and now that he looked up at the windows above, he could see there were no lights. It was odd for a house like this would normally be filled with people and the windows would shed light into the street until they were shuttered for the night. He frowned and looked for a side entrance, but tall iron railings prevented entrance to the back of the house. Glancing about him to see if anyone was around, Mooraven then scaled the railings and jumped down into the dark passage at the side of the building. No light was coming from the windows of the house as he felt his way around to the back. A bank of clouds hid the moon and here the little light that came from lamps outside a few of the neighbouring houses was not sufficient to show him where he was going.

For a few minutes he could only feel his way but gradually his eyes became accustomed to the dim light and he could make out shapes sufficiently to find himself at a back entrance to the house, through what was obviously a conservatory.

There was not a single light in the house. Had the countess retired immediately? It was unusual not to leave at least one lantern burning somewhere. By morning the candle might have burned down, but at night there ought to be a few lights throughout the house. What kind of a house was this? Where were all the servants?

Mooraven’s instincts told him that he had stumbled on a mystery. Suddenly, a thought struck him. The youth he’d seen leaving the house – could that possibly have been the countess in disguise?

If she had courage enough to walk through the streets of Paris at night dressed in her finery with only one servant, she might dare to risk walking alone as a youth. While most would think the countess worthy of attention, a slight youth might pass unnoticed.

Why was she leading a double life? Why had she stolen his purse – and where was she going?

Mooraven was thoughtful as he stared up at the house. His business in Paris was already dangerous enough. He was using an assumed name. No one knew who he truly was or what he did and it must stay that way. He ought not to let himself be distracted from the business in hand, but his curiosity was aroused.

He knew he could not just walk away from this situation. He wanted to know more about the countess and what she was doing…